The City Council agenda for our meeting on Monday, June 6th is posted on the city’s Open Meeting Portal. Based on the volume of email we are receiving this week, the item of greatest interest may be our vote on whether to celebrate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. At last week committee hearing we heard impassioned and persuasive testimony from Native American advocates on the psychic harm inflicted by continuing to celebrate Christopher Columbus, whose heinous crimes and genocide against Native Americans have been well documented. I wholeheartedly support the change and continued efforts to educate our school children and others about the impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples everywhere. Committee Report #5 provides the minutes of the committee hearing.
The item I am most interested in is a proposal that we vote on whether to authorize the development of a plan for Community Choice Aggregation for electricity. Eversource would remain our utility supplier, but forming a municipal buying pool would help us end our reliance on fossil fuels, strengthen our energy efficiency programs, and negotiate more competitive rates. Consumers could opt out of aggregation, and low-income customers would continue to receive special rates. Our vote on Monday does not obligate the city to accept the eventual plan, and any plan still would be subject to state approval. I am excited about this possibility.
Here are other items of note on this week’s agenda:
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Street name change near Alewife T station: There has been navigational confusion at the intersection of Cambridgepark Drive and Cambridgepark Place, so the city is proposing to change the name of the latter to “Steel Place” because the area around the T station was home to several steel mills back in the mid 20th century when Cambridgepark Drive was known as the Rindge Ave Extension. Before that it was all part of the Great Swamp!
#2 Bring Your Own Bag transition update: The ordinance has only been in effect for a couple of months but already stores are reporting significant reductions in paper bag use. We have distributed 7,700 reusable bags to underserved communities and seniors and we have another 4,400 on hand to distribute. DPW is continuing to educate retailers on compliance including the required 10-cent per bag charge at checkout and has granted several dozen exemptions to stores to draw down their inventories of plastic bags before complying.
#3 Report on truck safety and Inman Sq traffic: The city will begin fitting municipal trucks with side guards and blind spot mirrors as part of its Vision Zero program to protect cyclists and pedestrians. We also will undertake an urban good delivery study in response to concerns about the increasing number of large trucks on our streets. The DA is expected to announce whether charges will be filed in the incident last year in which a cyclist died after a crash with a truck near Whole Foods Riverside. There will be a public meeting to discuss the initial draft of a study on Inman Square traffic safety on Wed., June 22 at 6:00 pm at Cambridge Hospital.
#5 Safety of Sparks and Mt Auburn crossings: The city will study this intersection over the summer to assess whether the safety of the crossing can be improved. They will review crash data but I have a feeling that near misses are common because of the bus stops, the preponderance of older residents in the area, and the many cyclists using the Sparks St bike lane as a route to the paths along the river.
#7 Search firm hired for city manager search: I served on the committee that interviewed the three executive search firms that submitted bids to recruit our next city manager. We selected a seasoned and highly respected firm called GovHR whose bid came in at $42K. The GovHR consultants will be in Cambridge next week to meet with a broad range of stakeholders and to begin developing a leadership profile. Committee Report #3 relates to hiring the search firm. A schedule of focus groups for the public to help shape the leadership profile has just been posted.
#12 Automated reminders about city events: The city will be piloting a new communications platform that will enable residents to opt in to receiving text messages or automated calls about citywide and neighborhood events and meetings.
#13 Community Choice Aggregation for Electricity: See my description at the beginning of this post.
#14 Volpe Task Force: A small working group composed of residents and stakeholders in Kendall Square and the adjacent neighborhoods would work this summer (Phase I) on broad recommendations for the Ordinance Committee to consider. Once the GSA has chosen a developer for the Volpe parcel the task force would work with city staff, a consultant, and the developer to refine the details of the parcel’s rezoning for review by the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (Phase II). The City Manager would appoint the members of the task force, so if you are interested in serving let him know. (The application process hasn’t been announced since the item hasn’t yet been approved.)
#15 & #16 Funding for affordable housing programs: A HUD grant appropriation of $568,122 will support the HOME program to acquire, create and renovate low- and moderate-income housing.
#26 New Library Director: Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter will take the reins at CPL on August 23. She started her career in Cambridge, working with former Library Director Susan Flannery, and has since held leadership positions in Somerville and Santa Monica.
#1 Inclusionary housing priority for artists: At our last meeting we debated whether to expand the priority point system to working artists to help them gain faster access to inclusionary housing units (subject to meeting income limits). A motion was made to amend the order to considering prioritizing other occupations needing help with housing costs (teachers, police officers, firefighters etc), and Mayor Simmons used her charter right to delay a vote. I share the concern that we stand to lose even more of our arts community if extraordinary measures aren’t taken to create affordable live/work spaces for working artists, but I question whether the inclusionary program is the way to accomplish it. Most of the small luxury units being developed for the inclusionary program are unsuitable as live/work spaces. What we need are affordable co-housing developments designed specifically for artists with shared common areas that can function as studios and galleries.
#1 More levels on the Green St garage?: This order from Mayor Simmons asks to explore the cost and feasibility of adding additional levels on top of the Green St municipal parking garage. I don’t see why we would spend taxpayer money to construct more parking when all of our other traffic management efforts are designed to encourage transit, cycling and walking — and when in the future driverless cars may radically change the parking paradigm. From a sustainable transportation policy standpoint the rates at municipal garages should be increased to discourage their use.
#3 Campaign finance link on city website: Councillor and State Rep. Toomey asks that we provide a link to the OCPF’s campaign finance data on the city website. Here is a link to search campaign contributions to any candidate in Mass. The reporting requirements for candidates for state office differ from those for municipal candidates; whereas municipal candidates are required to file a list of their donations every two weeks, candidates for the state legislature are only required to file a single pre-primary report on August 31st that reports all donations from January through the end of August. Rep. Toomey is running for reelection this year and faces a primary challenge from Mike Connolly.
#4 Use of non-public city facilities by the public: Councillor Kelley would like more clarity on how “interior non-public city spaces” are used by members of the public without city staff present and without a formal task assignment by the city. I’m not sure which meetings at City Hall triggered this concern, but I have a hunch that it may be related to the civic engagement and advocacy activities of another councillor with whom he often disagrees.
#5 Supervision of Council interns: Councillor Kelley is concerned about whether interns for councillors are appropriately supervised. I had a senior from Community Charter School of Cambridge interning (unpaid) once a week with me this spring. She was physically with me or my legislative aide Nora Bent at all times and had no access to the city’s computer system or to any non-public documents. CCSC’s senior internship program is a wonderful way for young people to job-shadow. My intern, who will attend Barnard College in the fall, learned about all the issues I’m working on, attended meetings with me, and closely observed everything a city councillor does day-to-day. I hope Councillor Kelley’s concern is not directed at my intern because of his known hostility toward charter schools. Another councillor with whom he often disagrees also uses interns to help with policy research and civic engagement.
#6 Confusion about HAWK signals at crosswalks: Councillor Kelley is concerned that “HAWK” signals at crosswalks are confusing to both drivers and pedestrians. HAWK stands for High-intensity Activated crossWalK and the signals are installed at Mass Ave and Garfield St and at Binney and Sixth St. Their effectiveness in reducing crashes has been studied and confirmed by the Federal Highway Administration. Having seen drivers blow the traditional pedestrian-activated red light at the Fresh Pond Parkway and Vassal Lane crosswalk, I would say that no one should ever blindly trust a light to stop traffic — “stop, look and listen” still applies even when a signal gives you permission to cross.
#7 Help installing AC units in public housing: Currently residents of public housing are charged about $240 to install and remove window AC units. The charge seems excessive, and Mayor Simmons is right to ask what can be done to reduce or eliminate it.
#8 Dog park in East Cambridge: Yes, a dog park is needed. So are more parks for the humans of East Cambridge, who have been repeatedly promised more open space in compensation for all the development around Kendall. The latest promise to be reneged upon is for a park on Fulkerson Street; it has recently been announced that the former taxi garages near Fulkerson and Charles St will become a residential development where a park had been hope for. With the Volpe rezoning we need to be very firm that creating a significant public open space is non-negotiable, and that the developer must also commit funds to constructing, maintaining and programming the park space.
#9 Sunscreen dispensers in parks and playgrounds: No question, wearing sunscreen is important. So is wearing a hat and sunglasses to protect us from sun damage. However well-intentioned this idea is I don’t think it is the city’s responsibility to provide sunscreen dispensers in parks — or to clean up the mess they may make when misused or tampered with. Parents should be encouraged to send sunscreen to school with their children to apply under the supervision of an adult before recess or sports. An analogy could be made to the poop bag dispensers. As a dog owner, I appreciate these bag dispensers for times when I run short, but I still feel a personal responsibility to bring my own bag. Failure to clean up after your dog poses a harm to the community and is required by law; the failure to wear sunscreen affects only the individual who neglects to apply it. I doubt that providing sunscreen in parks will reduce the incidence of skin cancer significantly enough to reduce the public health costs associated with the disease. I’d rather we invest in more (working) water fountains and places where we can easily refill reusable water bottles all around the city.
#1 Stern Petition to eliminate the requirement for ground floor retail at Richard and Mass Ave: The Ordinance Committee gave this a favorable recommendation. I’m conflicted because I do feel that ground floor retail should be required on Mass Ave., yet the Planning Board endorsed the compromise the residents and the developer struck on a townhouse project without any retail.
#2 Non-citizen voting, outreach and Immigrants Day event: The Neighborhood Planning and Civic Unity Committees recommended that these initiatives continue to be explored.
#3 City Manager Search Process: The scope of services and the process for hiring a search firm was discussed. Since the Government Operations Committee’s hearing on March 23, a firm (GovHR) was selected by the RFP Evaluation Committee of which I was a member.
#4 Cambridge’s contribution to the Green Line Extension: The Transportation Committee voted to recommend that the City Manager continue to negotiate the city’s $25M pledge to the state to help fund the Green Line Extension. It is anticipated that the Northpoint developer Divco West will split the cost with the city.
#5 Indigenous Peoples Day: The Neighborhood Planning and Civic Unity Committees recommended that we celebrate indigenous peoples in place of Columbus.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA